As students take on the second portion of March of the living program in Israel, we bring you some of the blog posts shared over the last few days. Blogs for student reflections have opened through their respective groups or communities.
Today we bring you some of those posts – through Temple Emanuel, NC:
I have thought about what it would be like to walk through Auschwitz for weeks now in preparation for this trip; but what I realized today is that there’s no real way you can prepare yourself. I’ve known for years about the piles of hair, glasses, shoes, suitcases, toothbrushes and more that the Nazis took from the Jews and have kept since, but it wasn’t until the moment I saw these things in person that their true meaning really hit me. Seeing everything was really hard for me, and honestly I can say that I don’t think there’s a tear left in my body. I can’t even say that there was one thing that I connected with more than anything else, because around each corner I found a way to relate what I was seeing to experiences in my life. I left with so many questions that I know I will never find answers to. Things as big as “why did this happen?” to “what were the Germans planning on doing with all the hair they kept?” I know that in the coming days and weeks, I’ll have a lot to think about and to process. It would be wrong to say that I’m happy that I saw what I did today, but I think that it was something I needed to do in order to educate myself and to honor the 6 million Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust.
Walking into Auschwitz, none of us really knew what was going to hit us. For me, it was the hair. Just 5 minutes before, I was complaining about how static-y mine was. I have always been known for having long hair; people identify me with it. I chose to donate it last year – to give it to someone who couldn’t grow their own. I remember being so happy looking at the ponytail I chopped off. Yet, when I saw the ponytails of hair in the glass case, I was devastated. I couldn’t stop crying. I was completely overwhelmed. I was heartbroken for the rest of the day, constantly checking that my ponytail was still there. Each cluster of hair in the case represented a woman. Someone with personality, fears, and dreams. This woman, a mother, sister, wife, or friend, was someone who no longer had her femininity as she approached her death. Her dignity in a sense. Brooklyn and I, both girls who love our hair and have such thick, healthy hair, were so moved. We embraced each other, wept, and said the mourner’s kaddish for the women who perished in Auschwitz.
I can easily say that today was the most emotionally draining day of my life. I’m not going to go into much detail, but the sad emotion didn’t really hit me until I saw my peers crying their eyes out. It took every ounce of my energy to not do the same. Honestly, my favorite part of this experience is being able to experience it with the people I’m with.
Arriving in Poland for the first time was certainly a highly anticipated event. Today we learned about one of the units of the SS called the Einzazgrupen- pardon the horrific spelling. The Eizazgrupen killed about two million, or 30% of the Jewish individuals lost in the Holocaust. We are now on the bus headed towards one of the most well known places in Poland, we are headed to Treblinka. I hope to gain many things through this experience; not only do I hope to gain a better understanding of what happened to the Jewish people during WWII, but also gain the drive to ensure that something of this sort never happens again.
So far, this has not only been one of the most physically exhausting experiences I have foregone, but emotionally draining as well (and we haven’t yet visited a concentration camp). Our flight from JFK to Poland was about 10 hours, but felt like 24 because of the sassy flight attendants and exhilarated high school students. On the plus side, I have already made many new friends from all over the country. When we landed in Poland, the snow caught most of us off guard. My boot sank into the ground as well as all of our suitcases. The first stop was to a remaining wall from the Warsaw ghetto. While this was supposed to be a very sad site, it was hard to feel everything due to the modern buildings and apartments surrounding it. However, I felt a deep sadness upon our approach to the cemetery in Warsaw. The Holocaust survivor accompanying us on our trip, Hank, sang a beautiful Yiddish song in honor of the 1.5 million children who were brutally murdered as well as his family who perished. This was my first of many crying experiences to come. Our hotel was wonderful, even though it took us about 3 hours to drive from Warsaw to Bialystok. I ate some chocolate spread and hard boiled eggs for breakfast along with the rest of the students on this trip, so I am VERY excited for Israel! Right now, we are on our way to Treblinka. I am terrified of what I am going to see, but will be comforted by a picture of my grandmother that I will take with me. Having survived Auschwitz and many other camps, she kept pictures of her family with her throughout the war. I am excited and nervous for the rest of this trip, but know that it will change my perspective on life.
A myriad of emotions – intense agony, anger, and anguish- all surfaced after my arrival in Poland. The sights yesterday set the stage adequately for the events of today, and I anticipate Treblinka being a welcomed, pertinent component of the trip. Warsaw, in itself, is an emotionally draining city. Surely, with the guidance of friends, Rabbis, and others, this tour will continue to foment my already expanding Jewish identity.
Shalom from Poland! We arrived in Warsaw yesterday after a long flight, where we saw a segment of the wall that once divided the Warsaw ghetto from the rest of Warsaw. Oddly, it was sandwiched in the corner of a post-war apartment complex. In America, historical sites are always treated with a lot of ceremony; it was very strange to see something with such historical significance in the middle of peoples’ homes. After that, we walked through Warsaw’s amazing Jewish cemetery, saw some of the important places in the ghetto itself, like where the bunker of the Warsaw ghetto uprising’s leader Mordecai Analevich was, and finished the day at the monument to the Warsaw ghetto uprising. On the reverse side of the monument was the carving entitled “The Last March” which showed several Jews walking to the train station that would take them to a death camp. The courageous defiance of the uprising memorial contrasted starkly with the resignation of “The Last March” and was an incredibly profound expression of the various responses to the Holocaust. Right now, we’re driving to Bialystok, where we will continue our journey. It’s looking to be a great trip.
I sit here on the bus taking in the beautiful scenery of snow and grey buildings. After arriving in Poland we went straight to the sole surviving wall of the Warsaw Ghetto. We went to other sites around Warsaw including the Jewish Cemetery. The cemetery is one of the largest Jewish cemeteries in Eutope and was very beautiful with the snow on the ground. Now we are in Bilaystock heading to Tichocyn where we will visit Triblinka. I am looking forward to Warsaw tonight and exploring in the morning.